United Kingdom

Call to safeguard cash on high street as hearing ends

The Government is being urged to act on its promise to safeguard access to cash on the high street as a matter of urgency. 

This follows a promise made by Chancellor Rishi Sunak in early 2020 to protect cash usage in the wake of the surge in contactless and mobile payments – and the continued closure of free-to-use cash machines and bank branches. 

Since July, the Treasury has been seeking views from the financial services industry on proposals to ensure nationwide access to cash. 

Keeping the pound in your pocket: Chancellor Rishi Sunak made a promise in early 2020 to protect cash usage in the wake of the surge in contactless and mobile payments

The plans are mainly built around requiring banks to guarantee consumers and small firms access to banking facilities nearby: whether via a bank branch (possibly shared), ATM, or post office. 

The consultation period ended on Thursday, but some fear that unless Ministers legislate now, the UK's cash infrastructure will wither as banks shut ATMs and unprofitable branches – a process already in train as a result of lockdown and the undermining of high streets. 

Campaigner Derek French is among those who believe urgent action is required. He fears that any legislation stemming from the Treasury's consultation will not be introduced until 2023, giving the big high street banks sufficient time to 'rationalise' their branch and cash machine networks before restrictions are imposed on them. 

French wants any legislation to support the creation of nationwide banking hubs or shared branches. 

He says such hubs would meet the cash and banking needs of the 'larger bankless urban communities and their rural hinterlands'. 

Two such hubs are being trialled, but French believes the pilot should incorporate at least 20 – maybe 50. 

Meanwhile, ATM operator Cardtronics is calling on the Government to ensure all retailers accept cash 'so the underbanked are not left behind and to safeguard the public's right to choose how they want to pay'. 

Many shops stopped taking cash in the wake of the pandemic and have shown little inclination to change their stance. The Mail on Sunday has long fought to keep cash on the high street.

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